As forgotten films go, Ken Hughes’ sequel to the celebrated Michael Caine comedy/drama takes some beating; seen as an inferior sequel, it’s rarely mentioned or discussed. But this is no knock-off; playwright Bill Naughton wrote the continued adventures of the Cockney lothario as a novel, then adapted it with the director, so it’s an official continuation of the character. Caine was too old by 1975 for a naïve man-about-town, so Alan Price steps into the gap. Price’s work on Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man!, in which he appears and contribute a priceless set of songs, makes him part of British cinema history, and he’s actually fine as Alfie, a better fit that Jude Law was in the reboot.
With a 1975 setting, some effort has been made to update the settings. With Britain joining the Common Market or EEC, Alfie is working as a long-distance lorry driver, heading across to Europe for various romantic escapades. But while Alfie Darling is rejected by many as a crude sex-comedy, it’s anything but; one key reveal is that Alfie was driving a truck that jack-knifed and killed his best friend, and he is afflicted by profound guilt about his role in the accident. This is hardly the kind of thing that happens in British sex comedies; Confessions of a Long Haul truck driver this is not.
‘A relationship starts with sex,’ announces Alfie, and London is where most of the action is. ‘It’s the randiest city in the world!’; is how Alfie describes it, not something that my own personal experience bears out. But Alfie’s magnetism lures a bevy of beauties to his bed, from Rula Lenska to Hannah Gordon, from Joan Collins to Annie Ross, with Abby (Jill Townsend) the main goal he pursues. “We’re not all birds,’ she tells him, and while his other conquests complain about being ‘banged like a door-knocker,’ Alfie finds himself afflicted with impotence when she finally takes him to bed.
Naughton was a grown-up writer, and his treatment of Alfie’s misogyny is cautionary; Alfie enjoys his moment in the sun, but there’s a high price to be paid, and tragedy is around the corner. Initially, the irony is that having faked a back injury to get out of work, Alfie does himself a mischief and ends up in traction. But the film’s ending, spoiler alert, is pure 1975 nihilism; falling for Abby, Alfie heads to the airport with a bouquet of flowers, only to find that she’s been killed in a plane crash. Alfie wanders through the crash site, desolate, and roll credits in an ending that makes Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry’s fiery finale look positively upbeat.
Obviously, this isn’t as half-as-good as either Alfie or O Lucky Man!, but as a British ‘likely lad’ comedy from the 1970’s, it’s surprisingly progressive in the way that Naughton challenges the sexist views of the protagonist. With a couple of excellent songs from Price, plus transport cafes and trim-phones, it’s a valuable document of 1970’s fashions and attitudes, and doesn’t deserve to be so ignored.
Thanks to StudioCanal for access to this title.